GeoTechnical Rock Lab: Sustainable Oil and Gas Extraction 

GeoTechnical Rock Lab, a startup founded by an MBA student and alumni from the University of Utah, aims to reshape oil and gas extraction to create a more sustainable future.

The company uses various subsurface geology methods to test and examine rocks. Examination insights can increase the efficiency of drilling techniques.

GeoTechnical Rock Lab was started in 2023 by a trio of University of Utah alumni. Melissa Fuller received a bachelor’s in biology from the University of Utah and started as a student in the MBA program at the David Eccles School of Business in fall 2023. Her business partners, Chad Fuller and Patrick Gathogo, have master’s and Ph.D. degrees in geology respectively. By obtaining an MBA, Melissa can focus on the administrative aspects of business, while her teammates focus on the science.

“Our goal with oil and gas is to be in a position where we can make a difference,” Melissa said.

The company’s founders developed their method for testing cuttings, the rock fragments generated during drilling, as a supplement to the industry standard of core sampling. This method can provide data about the composition and characteristics of the rocks encountered during the drilling of horizontal wells. Understanding the properties of rocks being drilled leads to effective and environmentally safe extraction of resources.

Traditional oil and gas drilling techniques test rocks using core sampling – which can be expensive and is not possible for horizontal wells. Currently, when horizontal wells are drilled, the direction and resource extraction intervals are shot gunned.

As an alternative solution, GeoTechnical Rock Lab tests the rock cuttings from the drilling process – as if testing sawdust from wood. These samples are typically cataloged and collected, as required by the United States Geological Survey, then stored in a warehouse to collect dust.

“Core samples can cost millions of dollars to drill, but cuttings are already there. We can sort the cuttings and determine information about the entire length of the horizontal wells,” Melissa said. “Our vision is to compare the two sample types and show the industry that cuttings provide equivalent, and sometimes superior, data when compared to core.”

In addition to the cost, the production process from each well creates an immense amount of wastewater. Producing one barrel of oil can use up to 15 barrels of water. For every well that is drilled, hundreds of thousands of barrels of wastewater may be produced. “If we can direct and pinpoint drilling, there could be up to an 80% reduction in wastewater,” Melissa said. The number of pollutants produced by running machinery can be limited as well.

To advance their business, Melissa competed in the 2024 Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, a statewide business-model competition for college students, and they made it to the final round. The competition is managed by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah.

GeoTechnical Rock Lab plans to expand services by incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning, geomechanical testing, geospatial imaging, and drone technology. Geospatial imaging can provide detailed maps and analyses of geological formations. This technology may assist oil and gas companies to locate and analyze underground resources.

Melissa has learned the value of networking and adaptability through entrepreneurship. “Proper execution is a necessity. I’m taking the knowledge from my MBA program and funneling it straight into my business,” she said.

GeoTechnical Rock Lab is a great example of how individuals with unique skills can form a team and make a difference. “Figure out what your passion is. You’re only going to fail when you give up,” Melissa said.

Learn more about GeoTechnical Rock Lab at

About the Author:

Abigail Cheney Originally from Connecticut, Abigail Cheney came to the University of Utah for their esteemed entrepreneurship and marketing programs. She is passionate about startups and entrepreneurial exploration. Her enthusiasm aligns with writing and additional artistic endeavors. Connect on LinkedIn.

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